directed by Richard Jefferies
starring James Earl Jones, Martin Kove, Deborah Shelton
After decades languishing in the purgatory of VHS, DVD multi-packs and double feature discs dumped in bins at dollar stores, Richard Jefferies’ Blood Tide has been given new life by Arrow Video. If you have seen the film on VHS or DVD you really have not seen it. Comparing the new Arrow restoration to the transfer that has been circulating for decades is stunning and looks like an entirely different movie.
Following an eerie pre-title sequence detailing an ancient virgin sacrifice rite to placate an underwater monster, the story proper opens with photographer Neil Grice (Martin Kove the Cobra Kai sensei from The Karate Kid) and his wife Sherry ( Mary Louise Weller, Mandy Pepperidge from Animal House) arriving on an isolated Greek island searching for Neil’s missing sister, Madeline (Deborah Shelton, Body Double). They are met first by strange children, who throw a cat at them from above, and then by the austere village mayor, Nereus (Jose Ferrer, Dune) who naturally denies any knowledge of Neil’s sister. Of course Madeline is on the island and Neil and Sherry soon meet up with her and scuba divers/treasure hunters Frye and Barbara (James Earl Jones, Conan the Barbarian and Lydia Cornell, TV’s Too Close For Comfort). Madeline is working in the island’s convent restoring ancient icons and she seems to have a psychic link to the virgin sacrifice from the prologue as she uncovers secrets in the painting in the convent. It seems the outsiders have disturbed the creature who starts killing again and Madeline realizes she is fated to sacrifice her virginity to the creature to placate it.
Despite a nice set up the middle of the film sags as there really isn’t a lot to do so there are boat trips, dive trips, erotic nightmares, and pensive nuns. It really doesn’t pay off in the end either as the actual monster is a disappointment, but the film not a total loss. The film has some stellar set pieces, especially the sacrifice scene in the opening that is echoed in Madeline’s dreams that includes a shot that mimics Willard rising up from the water outside of the Kurtz compound in the climax of Apocalypse Now. All of the underwater work in the film is outstanding. The movie is book-ended by the virgin sacrifice scenes both of which are hauntingly beautiful and make the whole affair worth watching. The film suffers when on dry land and the cameras get locked down and the characters sit at tables and recite exposition. There is a good film here but has been wrecked by post-production hell that could have been avoided with a bit more money to finish the film properly. It really is a shame because there are moments that really work and stay with you but too much of the movie is a slog even with a sub-90 minute run time.
Blood Tide was restored in 4K from the original negative and is a revelation on Blu-ray. The film has for decades been cursed with substandard home video releases all based on an egregious telecine transfer that was then duped by countless unscrupulous video labels. This restoration also comes with some entertaining and insightful extra content.
Director and screenwriter Richard Jefferies sits down for a commentary track moderated by filmmaker Michael Felsher. Jefferies describes the shoot from hell including not being able to use dolly tracks for camera movement and being shut out of the editing process which resulted in a finished product that is quite different from his original vision. He isn’t terribly bitter about the experience as he was 24 years old at the time and didn’t have the clout to fight against the interference. The behind the scenes stories are more interesting than the actual movie, including dailies being held for ransom and Jefferies being tempted to steal the film back from the editing bay.
Apart from a couple of trailers the only other extra is Swept by the Tide a sit-down Q&A interview with writer producer Nico Mastorakis conducted by Ari Gerontakis. Mastorakis discusses the production of the film and the restoration. He regales with some tales of low budget movie production including one of the English producers having his yacht repossessed during the shoot. He also tells a story about Don Simpson (Jerry Bruckheimer’s producer), while a VP at Paramount, passing on films pitched by Mastorakis because the directors attached weren’t any good. Those directors were John Carpenter and Ridley Scott. No one’s careers were stunted, but it illustrates how capricious the movie business can be.
Despite its reputation as an all time bad movie, Blood Tide is a revelation on Blu-ray. It still isn’t great but is a testament to how much better a movie is when presented properly as it is so much more entertaining than the garbage transfer that we’ve all been subjected to and it very much worth a second look.